The most interesting thing to come out of the wikileaks stuff, at least as far as eastern Africa is concerned, is the story on Kenya’s proposed strategy of dealing with the state collapse in neighboring Somalia. According to the leak, Kenyan security chiefs are considering the creation of an autonomous buffer region in Jubaland – the area of Somalia that borders Kenya – kind of like the ones in Somaliland and Puntland. The capital of the autonomous buffer region would be in Kismayu.
Kenya has a sizeable Muslim Somali population and is afraid of fundamentalist Islamism on its doorstep in a lawless Somalia. A stable buffer region in Jubaland would guard against radicalisation of Kenya’s Somali youth in the northeast, on top of checking the proliferation of small arms in the country.
Kenya also might be thinking long term. A divided Somalia guarantees less chances of success for a greater Somalia irredentist movement if peace ever descends upon the entire country.
Ethiopia is not a fun of the idea. The last thing Addis Ababa wants is an autonomous region that can fund Somali separatists in the Ogaden. The region would also have a demonstration effect on Ogadeni Ethiopians who for decades now have fought for real political and economic autonomy from Addis Ababa.
I don’t think this is a bad idea. At this point anything that would bring order to any region of Somalia is acceptable. I have argued before that the Union of Islamic Courts should have been allowed to establish order and then bought off with aid in exchange for a more sober interpretation and application of Sharia law. The whole debate about how bad they were for women’s rights was horse manure. The Saudis aren’t any better.
Regarding Ethiopia’s concerns, Meles and his men should not export their Ogadeni conflict just as much as they do not want Somali warlords to export their own civil war. The rebellions against Addis in Oromoland and the Ogaden are partly due to Zenawi’s stranglehold on power and the faux-ethnic federalism that currently exists in Ethiopia. More on this soon.
The Ivorian electoral commission declared Alassane Ouattara, the northern candidate, as the winner of the presidential runoff held on Sunday. Ouattara got 54.1% of the vote. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo disputed the results and had the country’s constitutional court reject the pronouncement. His supporters contend that there were significant irregularities in three regions in the north of the country.
Gbagbo (left) and Ouattara
UN and other mission observers declared that the election globally reflected the will of the people of Cote d’Ivoire. The BBC reports that the country’s military has sealed the borders amid rising tension and confusion over the political stalemate in the country. Mr. Gbagbo has been president since 2000.
For the sake of institutionalism the international community should not allow Mr. Gbagbo to remain in power. His 10-year tenure has not done much in terms of healing relations between the two halves of the country that fought the 2002-04 civil war. The fact that even his incumbency advantage could not help him beat Ouattara signals his general incompetence and the mass’s disaffection with his rule.
Cote d’Ivoire has a population of 21 million people, 49% of whom live in urban areas. Life expectancy in the country is a dismal 56 years. Only 48% of Ivorians age 15 and over are literate. Ivorians’ per capita income is US $1700 and 68% of them depend on agriculture for livelihood. 42% of Ivorians live below the international poverty line of $2 a day.
Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans and a significant producer and exporter of coffee and palm oil. Because of the political risk in the country Cocoa for March delivery climbed $110, or 4 percent, to $2,868 in New York.
Jean-Pierre Bemba is the ICC’s highest profile defendant yet (The other big names from the Continent’s conflicts have been tried under the UN special tribunals for Rwanda and Sierra Leone). The former Vice President of the DRC is on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, murder and pillage, in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Typical of most African conflicts which are labeled “civil” but are in actual sense international wars, the DRC’s civil war extended beyond its borders. Bemba’s militia – The Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) – was used by its backers in the Central African Republic to put down a rebellion in the south of CAR.
The ICC has many failings. But its deterrent effect is beginning to take hold. Justice is political, no illusions about that. However, the court’s activities provide a guarantee that in some cases, once in a while, the voice of the voiceless men, women and children who bear the brunt of the Continent’s conflicts will be heard.
Those who conceive of justice as an end in itself must be livid. The last several days have seen one appeasement after another of heads of state who may have or have committed heinous crimes against their people. First there was the Kenyan invitation and failure to arrest suspected genocidaire Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Then came the leaked UN report accusing Kagame’s men of committing crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide, in eastern Congo that did not stop regional presidents from attending the increasingly autocratic Kagame’s inauguration after his sham reelection. The damning report even forced the UN Secretary General to fly to Kigali in order to reassure Mr. Kagame and express his regret over the leaking of the report (I wonder if Mr. Kagame reminded Mr. Ki-moon about his peacekeepers’ abysmal failure to protect civilians from sexual violence in eastern Congo).
While appreciating the complexity of the respective cases (which have serious implications for regional security and stability), the recent events related to Messrs Bashir and Kagame may serve to create a dangerous precedent. The whole point of the ICC was to make heads of state and other people in power think twice before going Pol Pot on their people. This objective will not be served if leaders realize that not even genocide can get in the way of regional and global geopolitical considerations.
In other news, as usual, Texas in Africa has interesting posts on the Congo. Check them out.
UPDATE: The daily nation reports that Somalia’s insurgent group al-Shabab has claimed the bombings that killed dozens in Kampala yesterday. The Atlantic’s Max Fisher offers an interesting analysis of the bombings.
Blasts in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, killed at least 64, the BBC reports. According to the report Ugandan security forces suspect that the bomb attacks may have been carried out by Somali insurgent groups. Ugandan troops are the backbone of the 5000 strong African Union contingent propping up the hapless transitional government of Somalia. The main rebel group in Somalia, the islamist al-Shabab, has previously threatened to attack Uganda in connection with its military presence in Somalia.
These attacks may be the beginning of a new security problem in the wider east African region. Since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 the Somali’s have largely kept their violence within their borders, the only regional effect being the proliferation of light arms and the recent surge in piracy off the Somali coast. But that will change now that internationally-linked groups like al-Shabab are willing to export violence beyond the Somali borders. It might be time for unconventional approaches to the Somalia problem.
Uganda is scheduled to host a high profile African Union summit next week and security must be an even bigger concern for the Ugandan government in light of these attacks.
I am on record as being very critical of Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times bureau chief for eastern Africa. His sensational reporting from the region has oftentimes painted a one dimensional picture of events and portrayed east Africans as irrational and passive beings at the mercy of fate, and their sadistic rulers. That said, Mr. Gettleman and others who share in his bravery remain the only sources of somewhat credible news reports from crazy places such as Somalia and eastern DR Congo. Listening to him on Fresh Air today reminded me that even though I may not agree with his presentation style, Mr. Gettleman is doing a brave job of reminding the world of the many evils that still define some people’s lived reality.
The Continent still lags the rest of the world in the effort to reduce child mortality. Malaria and GI related illnesses (due to unclean water and what not) are still the number one killers of children in Africa.
For more on the child mortality stats see Aidwatch.
In other news, IRIN reports that “Humanitarian officials will look to the Chad government to protect civilians and secure aid operations after the UN Security Council decided on 25 May to withdraw some 3,000 UN peacekeepers from the country’s volatile east.” Yeah right. The rather incompetent and grossly corrupt President Idris Deby of Chad has so far failed in his quest to eliminate the Union of Forces for Resistance (UFR) based in the East of the country and in Darfur, Sudan. In 2008 the rebels managed to stage a massive offensive in the Capital N’Djamena. Mr. Deby barely managed to repel them, possibly with French assistance. Government incapacity in Deby’s Chad, Francois Bozize’s Central African Republic and Joseph Kabila’s Democratic Republic of Congo continues to provide safe havens for rebel groups in the great lakes region. I am beginning to think that allowing countries with extra-territorial ambitions like Rwanda and Uganda to run AU-controlled mandates in segments of such countries might not be such a crazy idea.
It is an open secret that Southern Sudan will likely descend into civil war once it secedes from Khartoum. Reports of a mutiny against Southern Sudanese government troops after last week’s election may foreshadow what is to come after Juba achieves full autonomy. Divisions within the South are not new. In 1991 Riek Machar led a rebellion of Nuer officers against the Dinka-dominated SPLM/A. In the end John Garang’ and SPLM/A prevailed after SPLM-Nasir (Machar’s faction) was accused of being stooges of the regime in Khartoum. The same divisions may plague post-independence Southern Sudan – there are already widespread grumbling about Dinka domination of state affairs in Juba. Khartoum is almost likely to play a role in destabilizing the South. The Southern referendum on secession will be held on January 9th 2011.
In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.
But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.
The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.
So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?
If the African Union has a PR section then they should all be fired. I am beginning to think that all they do at the AU is convene every year to elect the worst dictator among them as president – Gaddafi is the current president. Well, on top of issuing statements defending the actions of slightly lesser or worse dictators like Zim’s Mugabe and Sudan’s Bashir.
The BBC has this story about the tenuous peace deal between the two Sudans. The whole story has pictures of dusty, out-of-the-past southern Sudan and a clip of some UK foreign office official. No one from either the northern or southern governments appears. The AU is obviously not mentioned. The salvaging of the peace deal is squarely put on the shoulders of the international community. Do the Sudanese care that they may go back to war? Does the AU care? Who knows? From the BBC report it appears that they don’t. Foreigners care more. As always. May be this is merely a matter of the BBC choosing to ignore the key players involved here. Or it could be that the key players don’t care. Or both.